Thursday, December 3, 2009
Nog Walks The Road!
Reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a visceral experience: you can taste the sweetness of what might well be the last Coke in America and smell the flesh of a baby being roasted on a spit by roving cannibal hordes (when I taught the book a few years ago many of the students said it made them cry and gave them nightmares). John Hillcoat's long-delayed film version is appropriately bleak--the cinematography believably conveys the look of a grey, ash-covered, burnt-up American landscape--but without McCarthy's remarkable prose, things can get a bit repetitive. After all, the only plot is this: man and boy (nameless) head south toward the coast after some unspecified disaster that destroys the land and kills most everyone. Hillcoat (possibly at the behest of studio dictatorship?) attempts to balance out the narrative by fleshing out the backstory of the man's wife (the novel offers only a few paragraphs), a decision that's probably meant to make things (slightly) more audience-friendly but ultimately adds very little. Also questionable is the voice-over (perhaps also an attempt to break up the potentially monotonous plot): at times the narration maintains McCarthy's archaic, biblical intonations ("The child is my warrant, and if he is not the word of God then God never spoke"), but at other times feel smoothed-out and unecessary. Viggo Mortensen offers strong work as the man and Kodi Smit-Mcphee is mostly good as the boy (he looks remarkably like Charlize Theron, as the wife/mother). Most viewers will feel that the despairing experience of the film isn't worth it (art should make us feel good, damn it!), but the film is worth seeing and, despite whatever concessions may have been made to help it find an audience, still feels pretty uncompromising.